Jeanne Koerner is a regular for lunch at East Central Community Center. She retired years ago and lives in a basement apartment in Browne’s Addition with two of her grandkids.
She’s a diabetic and has a heart condition. Para-transit takes her to and from East Central, where having lunch with her friends is the highlight of her day – and a nutritional cornerstone.
“This program really is a lifesaver for us seniors,” Koerner said about the Senior Nutrition Program. “I come for lunch every day that I can get here … It does irritate a person when one gets older and can’t get around so well.”
The Senior Nutrition Program provides lunch at 11 sites in Spokane County, and it also administers the Meals on Wheels sites in Deer Park, Cheney, at Mid-City Concerns, at the Regional Health District and in Spokane Valley.
In October, the program faced a budget shortfall that forced it to cut back to serving lunch just a few days a week. At the time, Lynn Quimby, program manager for the senior nutrition program, discovered that the nutrition program’s 2009 budget, for reasons unknown, was about $30,000 smaller than the 2008 budget. A scramble followed to fill the gap and continue to feed the nearly 200 seniors who rely on the program every day.
“In the past we could support meals five days a week. Today, not all sites are open five days a week; four of the 11 are reduced to four days,” said Quimby. “One other site has low participation, so it’s only open two rather than three days, and that was their choice.”
The Senior Nutrition Program lunches are available to any senior who is 60 years or older – there are no income requirements.
It’s a patchwork of funding sources – federal, state and meal-site donations – that keeps the program running.
“We lost three days in the fall,” said Kathy Armstrong, program director at the East Central Senior Center/Adult Day Center. Right now, East Central offers lunch on the five weekdays.
“Valley Meals on Wheels is our food vendor and that keeps our prices super low,” said Armstrong. “When they got a big donation in the fall, they shared with all of us.”
Funding for the entire year is not yet certain.
“We have established a Senior Nutrition Coalition, and we hope to be able to bring back all the sites to five days a week,” said Quimby. “Our funding is grant supported – but we also hope the community at large will see the value of our program and help us with donations.”
Cash donations cover many expenses, including the para-transit transportation many of the seniors depend on. Para-transit may increase tickets prices from 50 cents to $1.50 – another hurdle senior nutrition program managers are trying to clear.
It’s essential not just for the individual senior’s nutrition but also for continued funding, that they get to the lunch sites.
“When the number of meals we serve goes down, because the seniors can’t get here on a bus, we lose funding,” said Armstrong. “They say ‘Your number of meals is down, so your need must be down, therefore we’re not going to fund you as much for the next two years.’ ”
The social aspect of getting seniors – most of whom are widowed or living alone Armstrong said – shouldn’t be neglected.
“For many, this lunch program is the only thing that gets them out of the house,” Armstrong said. “Here at the center, they meet friends, they have access to classes and to our clinics. For many, it’s a lifeline.”
Koerner couldn’t agree more.
“I’ve learned so many things here,” said Koerner, who participated in a “Food $ense” class Friday. “Sometimes I pick up food from the food bank here. Cooking for one or two is a lot different than cooking for a whole family.”
The Food $ense classes are popular – more than 20 people including Koerner were in the class Friday, getting recipes, tips and hints on how to cook with food from the food bank.
Rice pudding with raisins and cinnamon was the recipe of the day.
Rhonda Hause, Food and $ense educator, was introducing the class to a variety of food items available that day from Second Harvest.
“Today we have eggs, we rarely see these,” Hause announced, holding up a carton. “And we have salad and salad dressing at the same time; that’s quite a miracle.”
The Food $ense classes are run by Washington State University and Second Harvest Food Bank.
“We talk about food safety and preservation, and we answer questions on how to best use the food from the food bank,” said Brandi Anderson, Food $ense program coordinator. “We see about 10,000 people every year at classes all over Spokane.”
Koerner liked the rice pudding, and was looking forward to bringing a bag of food home with her after lunch.
“Without this program I’d be stuck at home watching TV,” she said. “This is our refuge, you know. Old people get shoved around so much.”